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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea says it will sever hotlines with the South

Pyongyang furious at leaflets sent across the DMZ by defectors

Members of an anti-North Korea civic group seen releasing balloons containing leaflets denouncing leader Kim Jong-un towards North Korea, at Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju.   © Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) -- North Korea said on Tuesday it will sever hotlines with South Korea as the first step toward shutting down all means of contact with Seoul, state news agency KCNA reported.

For several days, North Korea has lashed out at South Korea, threatening to close an inter-Korean liaison office and other projects if the South does not stop defectors from sending leaflets and other material into the North.

Top government officials in North Korea, including leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, and Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, determined "that the work towards the South should thoroughly turn into the one against an enemy," KCNA said.

As a first step, at noon on Tuesday, North Korea will close lines of communication at an inter-Korean liaison office, and hotlines between the two militaries and presidential offices, the report said.

The official pronouncements mark a setback in relations amid efforts to try and persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for relief on tough international sanctions. The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

"Regular communication channels are needed most during a crisis, and for that reason North Korea cuts them off to create an atmosphere of heightened risk," Daniel Wertz, of the U.S.-based National Committee on North Korea, said on Twitter. "It's a well-worn play for Pyongyang, but nonetheless a dangerous one."

The people of North Korea have "been angered by the treacherous and cunning behavior of the South Korean authorities with whom we still have lots of accounts to settle," KCNA said.

The report accused South Korean authorities of irresponsibly allowing defectors to hurt the dignity of North Korea's supreme leadership.

"We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay," KCNA said. 

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